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I am reading in the book of Revelation at chapter 1:4,5 (NIV), where it is written (emphasis mine),

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

4Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

I notice that grace and peace is given to the seven churches by a letter from John, and that the grace and peace is sent from the:

  1. Lord Almighty (Revelation 1:8).
  2. The seven spirits before his throne.
  3. Jesus Christ.

Am I correct in my thinking, that the seven spirits before his throne are actually the Holy Spirit, and that this scripture shows the harmony in the Trinity between:

  1. The Father
  2. The Holy Spirit
  3. The Son

How do most people understand Revelation 1:4,5?

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The Three Entities

Grace to you and peace from [1] the one who is and who was and who is to come, and from [2] the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from [3] Jesus Christ


The Common View

Most Christian commentaries interpret these three as referring to the three persons of the trinity:

Grace to you and peace from [1] God the Father, and from [2] God the Holy Spirit, and from [3] God the Son

What little objection there is to this view comes in identifying 'the seven spirits' as the individual 'Holy Spirit'. The very early explanation for this is to interpret 'seven spirits' as a singular 'sevenfold Spirit'. The New Living Translation renders the text this way.

As for the reason John identifies the person of the Holy Spirit as 'seven spirits', interpreters bring up Isaiah 11.1-3:

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of Yahweh shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh. His delight shall be in the fear of Yahweh.

That is to say, this 'sevenfold' Holy Spirit is:

  1. The spirit of Yahweh
  2. The spirit of wisdom
  3. The spirit of understanding
  4. The spirit of counsel
  5. The spirit of might
  6. The spirit of knowledge
  7. The spirit of the fear of Yahweh

This explanation is ancient. Victorinus' Commentary on the Apocalypse cites the passage directly, though his slightly different list is based on LXX Isaiah:

We read of a sevenfold spirit in Isaiah; namely, the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, of knowledge and of piety, and the spirit of the fear of the Lord.

This view states that the Holy Spirit is defined in a sevenfold way, that there are seven attributes the Spirit imparts to the divinely-inspired. The Isaiah verse shows this sevenfold Holy Spirit 'resting' on 'the stock of Jesse' (i.e. 'David', a messianic figure), so proponents of this view point to Revelation 3.1 and 5.6 to show how this is true of Jesus.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible mentions this as a possible interpretation of the text.



An Alternate View

Critics of the common view believe two facts undermine its validity.

First, it is objected that the Isaiah verse is merely poetic, not meant to be a literal enumeration that the holy spirit is 'sevenfold'. The passage only uses the word 'spirit' four times, with the latter three uses simply adding definition to the initial use. Second, despite interpreters taking 'seven spirits' to mean 'sevenfold Spirit', the matter is that the Greek gives 'spirit' in the plural, suggesting John does indeed have seven distinct 'spirits' in mind.

An alternate explanation put forth is that the 'seven spirits before the throne' is John drawing from a pair of closely related traditions, of a specific class of angels that attend to God's throne, and of seven archangels.

This is seen most immediately in Tobit 12.15:

I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord.

This is also found in versions of 1 Enoch, where Raphael is again mentioned. For example, 1 Enoch 17.1-8 (traditionally 20.1-8):

And these are the names of the holy angels who keep watch: Uriel, one of the holy angels, who is in charge of the world and Tartarus. Raphael, one of the holy angels, who is in charge of the spirits of men. Reuel, one of the holy angels, who tends the host of the luminaries. Michael, one of the holy angels, who has been put in charge of the blessings of the people. Sariel, one of the holy angels, who is in charge of the spirits of the sons of men who sin against the spirit. Gabriel, one of the holy angels, who is in charge of the Garden and the seraphim and the cherubim. Remiel, one of the holy angels, whom God has put in charge of those who rise. The names of the seven archangels.

Jubilees 2.2 mentions 'the angels of the Presence'.

In the Prayer of Joseph, the man Israel identifies himself as the incarnation of 'a ruling spirit' who is 'an archangel of the power of the Lord'. In the same breath, Israel calls himself 'the first minister in the sight of God', while stating that the angel Uriel is his 'eighth'. These details suggest the author was also drawing on the tradition of seven archangels.

Levi's testament in The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs mentions that Levi's lineage was appointed to be the priesthood by 'seven men in white raiment', possibly alluding to a tradition of seven principal angels.

In the birth narrative in the Gospel of Luke, the angel who announces the births of John and Jesus, says, 'I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God.' It has been argued the arrangement of Jesus' genealogy so that Jesus comes seventy generations after Enoch is evidence the evangelist borrowed from 1 Enoch 10.12. It may be that Gabriel's job description likewise comes from 1 Enoch's tradition of the seven archangels, where Gabriel is one of those listed.

Clement of Alexandria, in Stromata, says that 'the firstborn princes of the angels, who have the greatest power, are seven', showing that the idea of seven archangels persisted in the early centuries of Christianity.

Rounding up the details, we have an ongoing tradition in the Second Temple period (and after) of a specific class of angels, sometimes called archangels, who stand in God's presence and serve before his throne. The alternate view argues the 'seven spirits' are John's rendering of the seven archangels tradition.

John does mention a singular 'spirit' in Revelation 1-3, ('I was in the spirit' and 'listen to what the spirit is saying to the churches'), and the spirit even speaks in Revelation 14 and 22. Whether these all refer to the same 'spirit' is another issue, but at no point does John attempt to identify the singular 'spirit' with the 'seven spirits'. And while it may be tempting to identify these 'seven spirits' with one or all of the sets of 'seven angels' that appear later in the Revelation (e.g. the seven angels of the trumpets in chapter 8, or of the bowls in chapter 15), again John makes no attempt to identify them with each other. These 'seven spirits' are an entity distinct from each the singular 'spirit' and the other sets of 'seven angels'.

Hence, the identification of the three entities in Revelation 1.4 would be:

Grace to you and peace from [1] God the Father, and from [2] the seven archangels, and from [3] Jesus the Messiah

John is not blessing his readers in the name of 'the trinity', but in the authority of the royal court in heaven. Analogy may be drawn to 1 Timothy 5.21, where the author gives a charge to his reader with a similar triadic formula:

In the presence of [1] God and of [2] Christ Jesus and of [3] the elect angels, I warn you to keep these instructions without prejudice, doing nothing on the basis of partiality.

The Jewish Annotated New Testament suggests this view is what John had in mind.



Criticism of the alternate view

Richard Bauckham, who opts for the common view, objects to identifying the seven spirits with the seven archangels tradition. The Theology of the Book of Revelation, page 110:

The seven Spirits, called in 1:4 'the seven Spirits who are before [God's] throne', have sometimes been identified, not as the divine Spirit, but as the seven principal angels who, in Jewish angelology, stand in the presence of God in heaven (e.g. Tob. 12:15). But Revelation itself refers to these seven angels (8:2) in terms quite different from the way it refers to the seven Spirits. Moreover, the term 'spirit' could certainly be used of angels (as frequently in the Dead Sea Scrolls), it rarely has this meaning in early Christian literature and never in Revelation.

So also G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, page 189:

Although some identify these spirits with the seven archangels, mentioned in Jewish writings (e.g., 1 En. 20:1-8) or with the seven angels of the trumpets and bowls (Rev. 8:2; 15:1, 6-8), the expression is more likely a figurative designation of the effective working of the Holy Spirit, since this is the characteristic identification of πνεῦμα in the NT when found in conjunction with or as part of an apparent formula with God and Christ.


Concluding Remarks

In my opinion, the alternate view is the correct one.

The criticism it receives, at least as represented above with Bauckham and Beale (neither of whom is normally short on words), is scant and even a tad bit circular (e.g. the word 'spirit' does not refer to angels, except for the occasions it does, which is definitely not this occasion).

Finding in John's explicitly plural 'seven spirits' instead a singular 'sevenfold Spirit', I would argue, is an attempt to retroject trinitarian theology into the text where later Christians expect they should find it, rather than following the foundation of Jewish traditions that John borrows from and builds on throughout his book.

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Two possible interpretations I can see (this is a largely subjective endeavor):

Interpretation 1

Seven is a number signifying perfection, completion, or God.

For example:

  • The seventh day completed the creative acts of God in creating the heavesn and the earth and all that is in them. (Gen 2:2)

  • Perfect forgiveness, or the inexhaustable mercy we are to show, is signified by Christ using 7, multipled by 7 multipled by another number indicating fullness, that is, 10. (Matt 18:21-22)

  • There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. (Isa 11:1-1)

  • God's words are as pure as silver tried seven times, the number of perfection. (Ps 12:6)

[Whereas man's 'number' is often said to be 6, being created on the sixth day, the number of the beast "the number of (a) man" is 666, etc.]

As such, this could signify the fulness and perfection of each of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, each of which He is said equally to be "the Spirit of." (cf. Prov 9:1; Isa 30:26).

Interpretation 2

These spirits are in fact the seven angels who stand before the throne of God and minister to Him:

Tobit 12:12-15

When thou didst pray with tears, and didst bury the dead, and didst leave thy dinner, and hide the dead by day in thy house, and bury them by night, I offered thy prayer to the Lord. And because thou wast acceptable to God, it was necessary that temptation should prove thee. And now the Lord hath sent me to heal thee, and to deliver Sara thy son's wife from the devil. For I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord.

Revelation 8:2-4

And I saw seven angels standing in the presence of God; and there were given to them seven trumpets. And another angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of the all saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of God. And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel.

[Typological interpretations of Esther might lend credence to such an interpretation, if we take the King to represent God, symoblically: Est 1:10,14; cf. Jer 52:25; Zech 4:10,14]

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A number of different interpretations of the seven spirits have been posed since antiquity:

  • The seven spirits represent the seven angels mentioned in Tobit (12:15)

I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One (KJV)

  • The seven spirits represent the angels ruling the seven churches (Andrew of Caesarea, 563-637 - the first Church Father to write a complete commentary on Revelation)

  • The seven spirits actually represent the seven main gifts of the spirit listed in Isaiah 11:1-3

And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a blossom shall come up from his root: and the Spirit of God shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and godliness shall fill him; the spirit of the fear of God (Brenton LXX)

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) accords with the interpretation that the seven spirits relate to the Holy Spirit:

“Saint Basil says the energies of the Spirit are many. But on this account there are not many Gods or many Spirits, for these realities are processions, manifestations and natural energies of the one Spirit, and in each case the Agent is one. When the heterodox call these creatures, they degrade the Spirit of God to a creature sevenfold. But let their shame be sevenfold, for a prophet again says of the energies, These are the seven eyes that look upon all the earth [Zechariah 4.10]. And it is so written in Revelation, and clearly demonstrates to the faithful that these are the Holy Spirit (One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, Ch. 70-71).

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Most people probably don't understand it.

Yes. It is suggestive that the three are one. However, a doctrine must sum up and include everything the scripture says about something to be conclusive.

Certainly the Holy Spirit is called he.

Joh 14:16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

Joh 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Joh 15:26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

The number 7 is a metaphor for complete. And here is suggestive of the complete Spirit of God. It is fair to ask why the Spirit is broken into seven parts. Each angel/messenger of God was filled with the Spirit, but it was one Spirit and the seven churches are one church. There was really no separation.

  • I've downvoted, because this response simply doesn't interact with the text of Revelation. – user2910 Aug 4 '17 at 16:47
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According to Foy E. Wallace, Jr. the seven spirits before His throne were representing the seven angels of the seven churches.

"2. “And from the seven spirits which are before his throne”--1:4.

The seven spirits are a designation of the spirit of each of the seven churches, having already been described as seven golden candlesticks, and later referred to (chapter 4:50 as seven lamps before his throne. Thus the seven spirits before his throne are identical with the seven lamps before his throne. It is the continuation of the apocalyptic aspect of the seven-branched lamps (or candlesticks) which represented the seven churches, and being before his throne signified a unison with God and Christ in these salutations." Source: The Book of Revelation, A Commentary on the Apocalypse of the New Testament, pp. 68-69

Another common view is that they represent the different aspects or functions of God in His oversight of the seven churches. Excerpt from Benson's Commentary on Rev. 1:4-6:

"And from the seven Spirits which are before his throne — Christ is he who hath the seven Spirits of God. The seven lamps which burn before his throne are the seven Spirits of God. The Lamb hath seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God. Seven was a sacred number in the Jewish Church. But it did not always imply a precise number. It sometimes is to be taken figuratively, to denote completeness, or perfection. By these seven Spirits, not seven created angels, but the Holy Ghost, is to be understood; the angels are never termed Spirits in this book; and when all the angels stand up, while the four living creatures, and the four and twenty elders, worship him that sitteth upon the throne, and the Lamb, the seven Spirits neither stand up nor worship. To these seven Spirits of God, the seven churches, to whom the Spirit speaks so many things, are subordinate; as are also their angels, yea, and the seven angels which stand before God. He is called, The seven Spirits, not with regard to his essence, which is one, but with regard to his manifold operations." Source: here

This is almost the same sense as the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Bible Commentary provides:

"the seven Spirits which are before his throne—The oldest manuscripts omit "are."

before—literally, "in the presence of." The Holy Spirit in His sevenfold (that is, perfect, complete, and universal) energy. Corresponding to "the seven churches." One in His own essence, manifold in His gracious influences. The seven eyes resting on the stone laid by Jehovah (Re 5:6). Four is the number of the creature world (compare the fourfold cherubim); seven the number of God's revelation in the world.: Source is as above.

However, there is a more complete definition provided in the word at Rev. 5:6:

"and I saw, and lo, in the midst of the throne, and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb hath stood as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the Seven Spirits of God, which are sent to all the earth," (KJV)

The seven spirits are here defined as being the seven horns and seven eyes of the Lamb that was slain - Christ. So, Christ's eyes and horns (symbols of power) were the seven Seven Spirits, and they were directed at the seven churches of this province of Rome. Christ had a message for each of the seven churches.

Rev. 2:7,

"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; ...." (KJV)

And, it is repeated 6 more times in verses 2:11, 2:17; 2:29; 3:6; 3:13; and 3:22. They are also quite possibly the seven spirits detailed in Isa. 11:2 of the rod of the stem of Jesse, the same Branch that is Christ:

"And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;"

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No it does not prove a trinity, or that the Holy Spirit is "a third person in the trinity". If we go to Revelation 5 it says:

And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
-- Revelation 5:13 (KJV)

We see the 7 Spirits are left out when the Father and Son are being worshipped. If the Holy Spirit is "the third person of the Godhead" then why is he left out? If we go to revelation 22, it leaves the Holy Spirit out again:

And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.
-- Revelation 22:21 (KJV)

And If you go to every epistle, the apostles give grace by the Father and Son, they don't mention the Holy Spirit. This is because they understand that the Holy Spirit is the very power and breath of the Most High, fulfilling His will, and is not His own person separate from the Father.

The apostle John teaches that the Word was with the Father in the beginning -- that's two. And the scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is the very power and life poured out from Alahym (God), not His own person.

  • Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site functions. You only need one '>' at the beginning of a quote, not one for each line. Don't forget to include the version of the Bible you are quoting. – enegue Aug 4 '17 at 1:57
  • I think the editor adds a > on each line when you select the GUI quote button. – Bob Jones Aug 4 '17 at 3:42
  • @BobJones If that's the case, then I think the script might need a tweak! :-) – enegue Aug 4 '17 at 6:56

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